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Is Leadership to Blame for Low Employee Engagement in Healthcare?

November 30, 2016

health-leader.jpgHealthStream’s Engagement Institute just published their 2016 Employee Engagement Benchmark Report. HealthStream is a leader in healthcare employee engagement surveying and improving employee engagement with their tools and coaching. They define engagement as “an individual’s cognitive, emotional, and behavioral connection with an organization’s mission, vision, and values.”

What people miss most about employee engagement is that you don’t do it just to create a nice place to work, but because there is a direct correlation between employee engagement scores and patient satisfaction scores!

Some interesting findings from the Benchmark Report:

  • Only 39% of healthcare employees in the database are very satisfied with their immediate supervisor.

The top 5 drivers of Workforce Engagement:

  1. The degree to which staff trust administrators

  2. How well administrators direct the overall functions of the facility

  3. How well leaders treat, appreciate, and support employees

  4. How well administrators understand the needs of the department

  5. How openly and honestly administration communicates

If you drill down further and explore an organization’s ability to keep the right people, they found the top two drivers include:

  1. Success at hiring the right people for the job in the first place

  2. The degree to which staff members trust administrators

Are you seeing a trend? Over and over the role of leaders is revealed as probably the most important variable in having an engaged workforce who will stick around. We know this is true because we’ve worked with clients to help them select the right candidates for leadership roles for two decades. Our research shows a direct correlation between performance on our leadership tools and staff engagement scores. Better leaders do a better job engaging their teams. It’s that simple.

Related: A More Deliberate Approach to Healthcare Leader Selection and Development

Want to improve employee engagement scores? Step one is to hire better leaders. Step two is listed above, too: “Success at hiring the right people.” Your staff is more engaged when they have faith that you are capable of hiring the right people. Hiring mistakes erode the faith and engagement of other staff.

I asked Jason Frizzell, an Industrial-Organizational Psychologist and key member of our Healthcare team, how organizations can do a better job hiring people who are more likely to be engaged. His response:

“You actually can target certain behavioral traits. You can hire people who are more likely to be engaged. First by addressing job fit and motivational fit in the selection process. There’s research showing a positive correlation between work engagement and personality traits like optimism, resilience, and self-efficacy. Since work engagement has been proven to be an essential factor to increase job performance, optimistic employees are more work engaged and the more work engaged the employees, the better the job performance. Thus, clients should be looking to incorporate these measures of personal resources into the selection system.” And he added another somewhat obvious point given the Benchmark report: “Hire better leaders.”

Healthcare is notorious for taking the best nurse and making him or her a manager without assessing real leadership ability. The data is pretty conclusive – this approach doesn’t work. You need to define the leadership traits that matter and measure them through a solid leadership assessment tool and a thorough interview.

I’ve seen in several places that a disengaged employee has three times more of a negative impact on other employees than the positive impact of a highly engaged employee. If this is true, every bad hire – front line staff, manager, or leader – has a devastating negative impact on your efforts to improve employee engagement.

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Bryan Warren Bryan Warren is the President of J3 Personica, a consulting, assessment, training, and coaching firm, and a guest blogger for PSI. Bryan is an expert in progressive talent strategies, with a particular focus on leader and physician selection and development.